avast! Internet Security 8 review

avast! Internet Security 8 adds spam filtering, firewall, and a powerful sandboxing engine to the same antivirus protection found in avast!'s free suite. Overall, though, you can get better protection for the same price (or less).
Photo of avast! Internet Security 8

Free antivirus products are fairly common, but most vendors charge for full-scale security suite protection. Avast! is no exception, though at $69.99 per year for three licenses avast! Internet Security 8 is less expensive than some. With this suite, you get the same antivirus and bonus features found in avast!’s standalone antivirus plus firewall protection, spam filtering, and an impressive virtualization system.

The product’s main window looks a lot like that of the antivirus, except with a dark background rather than a light one (see the slideshow). Here, too, the old look has been updated for Windows 8, with big, touch-friendly panels and a green and red happy/unhappy overall security status indicator.

Clicking the Market panel opens an in-product store from which you can purchase any product or service that avast! offers. An elaborate support system is also built in, with everything at your fingertips from FAQs to remote assistance.

Decent Antivirus
The antivirus protection in this suite is precisely the same as what’s found in avast! Free Antivirus 8. I’ll offer a summary here, but for a detailed run-down of my testing, please read that review.

Ransomware kept avast! from installing on one test system, but tech support managed a workaround. Malware on another system actively blocked avast!’s installer and other processes, requiring hours of remote-control diagnosis and repair. Starting this month, I’m rating the user experience of installing and scanning with each product, ranging from five stars when the process goes through without a hitch, down to one star if the product simply won’t install or run on one or more of my test systems. Success at the expense of a lengthy remote assistance session earned two stars for avast!

Because I’m using a new malware collection for the first time, I can’t make an exact one-to-one score comparison between avast! and other recent products. Tested with my previous collection, Comodo Internet Security Complete 2013, Norton Internet Security (2013), and Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 all scored 6.6 points. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 1.70 took the top score of 7.1 points.

Avast! detected 75 percent of the malware samples and scored 5.8 of 10 possible points for removal. Its score is just a bit above the average of the previous group, while its detection rate is slightly below that group’s average. For an explanation of how I perform malware removal testing, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

avast! Internet Security 8 malware blocking chart

In my malware blocking test, avast! likewise earned scores that are good, but not great. Its 86 percent detection rate and 8.5 point score are both just slightly below the average of products tested with my previous malware collection. It did prove unusually effective at blocking downloads from malware-hosting sites.

Webroot detected 100 percent of the previous malware collection and scored a near-perfect 9.9 points. Second place goes to SecureIT Plus (2013), with 97 percent detection and 9.7 points. For details on my malware blocking test, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

avast! Internet Security 8 malware blocking chart

Decent Lab Results
All the independent testing labs that I follow include avast!’s technology in their reports. In general avast! does better at static tests, things like on-demand scanning. It did pass the whole-product dynamic test by AV-Comparatives, with a rating of STANDARD. Its scores are good, but not on par with a top product like Bitdefender Internet Security 2013.

The chart below summarizes recent lab results. For details about the labs and their tests, please read How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests

avast! Internet Security 8 lab tests chart

Other Shared Features
Avast! Web Reputation browser toolbar displays safety ratings and tags for the current website and for links in popular search portals. Results come from other avast! users, and you can cast your own votes as well. Phishing protection is a separate function. I was surprised (and not pleasted) to find that every site avast! blocked for phishing got a clean bill of health from the Web Reputation system; those two components should talk to each other!

While it did better in my antiphishing test than the previous edition did, avast! is still right in the middle. Norton is a consistent antiphishing champ, and its detection rate was 55 percentage points higher than avast!’s. Internet Explorer 8 alone, with its SmartScreen Filter, came in 27 percentage points ahead of avast!. Granted, only about a third of current products can beat Internet Explorer alone. For a full explanation of my antiphishing test, see How We Test Antiphishing.

avast! Internet Security 8 antiphishing chart

Avast! automatically checks important software components to make sure you’ve installed all security patches. You’ll get a popup notification if anything is out of date; you can also launch a full update scan manually. And a handy Browser Cleaner lets you view all browser toolbars and delete any that you don’t really need.

SafeZone Sandbox
Sandboxing refers to the process of virtualizing a program’s effects on the file system and Registry. Any changes made by a sandboxed program can be wiped out in a flash, so you can run “iffy” programs without worrying about permanent damage. But what if the damage isn’t local? What if the suspect program transmitted some private information to its home base? The avast! sandbox handles that problem too, as it prevents sandboxed programs from accessing a wide range of sensitive system areas.

The free antivirus includes automatic sandboxing of programs deemed to be suspicious, but that’s as far as it goes. The avast! suite still includes automatic sandboxing, but you also have full manual control. You can launch any program in the sandbox, or set it to always launch in the sandbox.

For super-secure browsing, you can switch into a fully virtualized desktop called SafeZone. Processes running in SafeZone are isolated from processes on the normal desktop, and the hardened SafeZone browser doesn’t allow plug-ins. You can flip back and forth from the regular desktop to the SafeZone without losing your work in either place. At any time, you can wipe out all SafeZone activity and go back to a blank slate.

I’ll grant that the manual sandboxing feature appeals more to techies than to the average user, but switching to SafeZone for sensitive online transactions is simple enough. And even if you totally ignore this feature, automatic sandboxing should still protect you from suspicious programs, much the way the automatic categorization of programs by trust level in Kaspersky Internet Security (2013) does.

Quiet Firewall
The only time you really need to interact with avast!’s firewall is when you first connect to a network. At that time you identify the network type as Home, Work, or Public, and avast! configures itself appropriately. In testing, I found that it correctly stealthed all ports and resisted port scans and other Web-based attacks.

Like Norton and Kaspersky, avast! doesn’t force the uninformed user to make complex security decisions. It automatically configures network and Internet access for known good programs, and it wipes out known bad programs.

When it encounters an unknown program, avast! tracks the program’s behavior and makes its own decision. If the program looks suspicious, it may be sandboxed pending analysis. All of my one-off hand-written recording and monitoring tools looked suspicious to avast!, but after analysis it decided they weren’t malware.

The suite’s Registry data is protected against unauthorized modification (by malware or otherwise), and you can’t just kill its protective processes. When I tried to disable it by shutting down essential services, it asked for confirmation. A malicious process trying to shut it down won’t get that confirmation, so that’s a good form of protection.

However, by setting the firewall service’s startup type to “Disabled” and rebooting, I rendered it powerless. Malware could do the same. I don’t know why avast!’s designers don’t protect the firewall service the same way they protect the antivirus service.

Next, I used the Core IMPACT penetration tool to attack the test system using about thirty exploits. None of them managed to breach security, and avast!’s various components actively blocked all but two of them. In a number of cases it identified the attacking exploit by name. This is a better showing than almost all of the competition except Norton, which blocked all of the exploits.

Ham with Spam
Not everyone needs client-side spam filtering, but those that do want it simple, fast, and accurate. Avast! hits the mark on two out of three. There are few settings, and the only one you might possibly want to change from its default value is the checkbox that automatically whitelists addresses to which you send mail. In testing, I found that downloading mail was somewhat slower with the spam filter active, but nothing you’d notice.

Avast! filters incoming POP3 email and marks spam and phishing messages in the subject line. If you’re using Outlook, it automatically diverts spam to the Junk E-Mail folder; if not, you’ll have to define your own message rule.

I let avast! process thousands of email messages from a real-world spam-infested account, then manually combed through the Inbox and the spam folder. I separated out valid personal mail, valid bulk mail, and undeniable spam, discarding everything else. I also discarded any messages more than 30 days old.

Spam in the Inbox is a nuisance, but a filter that discards “ham” (valid mail) along with spam is a menace. Surprisingly, avast! threw out fully 2 percent of the valid personal mail coming into this account. The previous edition only discarded 0.2 percent of valid mail, and many current products manage to filter spam without a single false positive.

A spam filter that’s super-aggressive and catches all undeniable spam might be excused for discarding a few valid messages too, but avast! doesn’t fall into that category. It missed almost 18 percent of the undeniable spam messages. By comparison, AVG Internet Security 2013 didn’t block any valid mail and missed just 3.4 percent of the spam.

The chart below summarizes my recent antispam tests. For a full explanation of my methodology, see How We Test Antispam.

avast! Internet Security 8 antispam chart

Minor Performance Impact
Avast! doesn’t include a parental control component, which may be a blessing if you’ve no need for parental control. Keeping an eye on the children’s computer and Internet activity can potentially slow down normal operations. In my testing, avast! did have a measurable effect on performance, but not a large one.

Getting a big, bulky security suite loaded at bootup can force you to wait longer for full access to the PC’s resources. My boot time test calculates the elapsed time from the start of the boot process until the system is ready for use. Averaging 100 test runs, I found that the boot process took 8 percent longer with avast! in place, a difference you’ll hardly notice.

Avast! does have to check every website you visit for Web Reputation and phishing protection, but it only slowed my browsing test by 9 percent. This test measures the time required to fully load an eclectic collection of 100 websites.

A script that times how long it takes to move and copy a large number of files between drives also took 8 percent longer under avast!’s protection; the current average slowdown for this test is 23 percent. The only test in which avast!’s impact came in greater than the average was the zip/unzip test. A script that zips and unzips that same large collection of files took 20 percent longer under avast!, while the current average slowdown is 16 percent.

It’s unlikely that you’d notice an impact on system performance caused by this suite.

Look Elsewhere
The most interesting part of avast! Internet Security 8 is its SafeZone sandbox—to me, anyway. Unfortunately the average user likely won’t feel the same. The firewall is effective, but the spam filter dropped in accuracy since my last test. Both in my own tests and in tests by independent labs, the antivirus gets good scores, not great ones.

You can get Norton Internet Security (2013) for the same price as you’d pay for avast!. For $10 more, consider the super-compact Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013, which adds powerful online backup and password management. At just $39.99, Comodo Internet Security Complete 2013 is a bargain, and GeekBuddy support will hand-hold you through any problems. You’ll be better off selecting one of these three Editors’ Choice suites.

Sub-ratings:
Firewall:
Virus removal:
Virus blocking:
Performance:
Antispam:
Privacy:
Parental Control: n/a

More Security suite reviews:

Specifications
Tech Support Forum, social sites, support web site, and free phone support for US.
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7
Type Business, Personal, Professional

Verdict
avast! Internet Security 8 adds spam filtering, firewall, and a powerful sandboxing engine to the same antivirus protection found in avast!'s free suite. Overall, though, you can get better protection for the same price (or less).
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc